How to deal with email overload – Productivity hacks for managers and leaders

email overload

Email overload!
Image: 3dfoto/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

Do you suffer under email overload?

Are you a business leader and process more than 100 emails on daily basis? Then you are making a mistake!

Your email habits reveal whether you are true leader or simply an overburdened micromanager. It is under your direct control.

To lead is to determine the direction, to maintain control and to inspire employees. You can only achieve this if you focus on the important issues and rigorously delegate tasks.

This also means that you should not be informed about everything at any time of day. You should also not be controlling all transactions in your company and this means you should be very picky with spending time on your emails.

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My experience with emails

To be honest: I did and even today I‘m still not really an expert with working on my E-Mails.

But over the years as a manager and as an entrepreneur I have learned some tricks and E-Mail habits, which helped me a lot to get better with emails.

Today, I still receive a lot of emails, but I don’t spend such a big amount of time on them any longer. Today, with emails I am more productive than ever. Also there is always room for improvement…

Why do so many managers suffer from email overload?

The question is: Why do so many managers constantly read their emails? I think these managers are afraid they might miss something.

Or they may feel the need to demonstrate that they are constantly reachable. What a bunch of nonsense and what a waste of time!

I am actually aware of general managers who expect their employees to respond to an email after no more than 20 minutes. These are the same general managers who process emails during meetings on their laptop or their smart phones.

What is the point of this? If brain research has taught us anything in recent years it is that multi-tasking is neither effective nor efficient.

I can either process my emails, or I can participate in a meeting! If the meeting is not important, why the hell is the leading manager present at the meeting? If the meeting is useless, why not cancel it?

When should you read your emails?

Simple rule:
Only read your emails at fixed times, once or twice a day, for example at noon and at 4:00 p.m.

Otherwise, your email software should be shut down. – And turn off the email notification sound on your mobile phone!

I assure you: Urgent and important issues will not be sent by email. If someone has an urgent matter for you that is also important, they will always contact you in person, or they will call you or your administrative staff.

Believe me: You will not be notified by email if your house is on fire.

How can you process your e-mails efficiently?

I find David Allen’s “Getting it done”, or GTD method for processing emails very helpful. The idea is to keep your incoming mail folder as empty as possible. It is often refered to as “Get an empty inbox!” or “Inbox zero”. The underlying principle behind this:

Take the following steps when processing your emails:

1. “Doing”
Read the email. If the email you have just read requires you to perform an action, and this action will require less than 2 minutes, then take care of it right away!

2. “Delegate”
If an action is required, but you are not necessarily the one to handle the matter, then delegate the task.

3. “Delete or file”
If processing the email will require more time, then place it in your To-Do folder. If no action is needed, but you want to keep the email, then save it to another folder. Otherwise delete the email immediately.

This approach has the following advantages:

  • You only need to process our emails once or twice a day.
  • Each email is only opened once.
  • You inbox is orderly and largely empty.

How can you receive fewer emails to escape email overload?

According to Prof. Jacob Palme, it takes 4 minutes on average to write an email, but only 30 seconds to read an email.

Therefore, if every email had only a single recipient, people would spend 90% of the time allotted to email with writing and only 10% on reading.

But the reality is completely different. Many emails are not only sent to one, but rather many, and some even to a large number of recipients.

You should therefore change the email culture in your company! Let your employees know:

  • Stop sending “CYA” emails!
    If you have established a leadership culture based on trust in your company, then your employees should not feel the need to constantly send emails with a host of “CC” and “BCC” recipients.
  • Avoid the button: “Reply-to-all”!
    There is rarely a need to “reply-to-all” when responding to the original email.
  • Only reply if really neccessary!
    Emails should only be replied to if it is really necessary. Forwarding should be well considered!
  • Don’t expect a reply on the same day!
    Nobody should expect that an email receives a reply on the same day!

And for your personal use:

  • Cancel all newsletters that you do not read anyway!
  • Do not send emails with an automatic read confirmation!
  • Always keep in mind: The fewer emails you send, the fewer emails you will get.
  • Let your employees know that you only want to receive important information by email.

How do you write an email properly?

If you want to avoid email overload, formulate your emails politely, but be brief, clear and precise. An email should best only contain one topic. The topic should be clearly stated in the subject field. This ensures that the purpose is clear without opening the email.

A well formulated subject entry is:

“Meeting on 1st March at 9 am?”.

However, a less helpful subject entry would be:

“Meeting proposal”.

Direct conversation instead of email

With an email there is always the danger that the recipient may misunderstand your intentions, your ironic comment, or the context. This can result in problems or unnecessary escalations.

Some email exchange can get out of control this way. This leads to frequent back and forth. It would be better instead to seek a face-to-face exchange or to briefly call by telephone, and to resolve the issue.

Emails cannot replace direct conversation! Always ask yourself:

“Would it be easier to solve my problem in a personal conversation?”

If so, simply pick up the phone or meet the person directly. I assure you: This is an important point to avoid email overload.

The inspiring quote

Any email that contains the words ‘important’ or ‘urgent’ never are, and annoy me to the point of not replying out of principle.

Markus Persson

 

LME023 – How to become a better manager at work.

If you want to know how to become a better manager at work, you are at the right place. I’ll show you my 3 best tips. They help you to have more productive and loyal employees. Furthermore you to will become more productive and get a higher job satisfaction.

Sounds interesting? – Read on!

Listen to the podcast version

 

The human factor

As a manager today, it isn’t enough to just simply focus on results and the financial bottom line. Today you need also to have good human skills to be successful.

What are human skills? Great that you ask!

I found it very helpful, how Simon Sinek puts it in his video
“What Business Can Learn From the Military“:

 

“There are no soft skills! There are hard skills and human skills!”

Simon Sinek

 

I believe he‘s on spot. Job satisfaction and job productivity of a manager as well as of the employees is directly tied to the human skills of this manager.

Several studies have shown that focusing on both – human skills and hard facts – yields better financial results for a company: https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive

What can you do?

How can you become a better manager at work? There are lots of tips out there – and a lot of them are helpful and important. For example: Learn to delegate, don’t be a micromanager or create a positive work environment.

My 3 best tips to become a better manager.

These 3 tips are simple but that doesn’t mean that they are easy to implement. But I promise, if you work on them, you immediately will see positive results. Let’s dive into the 3 tips:

1. Lead more and manage less

I know many CEOs who work around the clock and still feel they don’t really do their job. Many are trapped in the rat race of day-to-day operations. They work a lot on management tasks, but they don’t take enough time for leadership.

In my view, there are several reasons why managers think they don’t have time for leadership. The biggest challenge can be summarized in one sentence:

Leadership is important, but rarely urgent!

Developing a business strategy, talking to an employee, discussing the vision statement, thinking about customer benefits or improving processes – all these are leadership tasks – and they are important, but they aren‘t urgent. They don’t have a deadline.

Leadership tasks don’t have a deadline.

If you develop the strategy today or tomorrow, will not be a big difference. If you have this one-on-one meeting with your direct report today or only later next week, this doesn’t change the bottom profit line, does it?

In contrast, management tasks are usually urgent. They have a deadline. But are they always important? Not really.

The solution?

Since leadership is usually important but not urgent, we postpone it. Therefore, let’s outwit ourselves.

Set fixed deadlines for leadership tasks in your planning and put them into your calender and your ToDo List. This automatically makes your leadership tasks urgent and helps you to lead more and manage less.

2. Talk about your expectations

You want your employees to act and behave in accordance to your interest and expectations. They just should make the right decisions if you are not there and if they can’t ask you, right?

Now, How can they know what you expect from them? Correct. You need to tell them. But be honest.

Are you talking about your expectations?

What exactly are your expectations? I experienced that very few employees know exactly what is expected of them. And the reason is usually: Their boss hasn‘t communicated it clearly.

Do you think your employees know about your expectation? I doubt.

My tip: Write down on a piece of paper what you expect exactly from your employees. Just start with your values, for example:

  • Do you expect your employees to be on time? Then write down Punctuality.
  • Do you want loyal employees? Write it down.
  • Do you expect them to reach goals? Write it down.
  • Do you want them to focus on customer satisfaction? Write it down.

You may say:

“Yes, of course. That’s all important. That’s self-evident, isn’t it?”

But it’s not that simple. You have to set priorities and communicate them. It’s not just enough to tell your employees what is important and how to behave.

You need to tell them your priorities.

Otherwise how should they know what to put first? Therefore, set priorities for your expectations and values. Ask yourself: What is more important to you?

For example, is being on time more important than quality? Has customer satisfactiona higher priority than achieving a sales target?

Perhaps you say now:

“Well, that depends.”

Oh. Really. It depends. So make it clear: On what does it depends?

When should your employee focus more on qualty instead of being on time? If you don’t tell it to your employees how should they know? How should they act and behave in your best interest if they don’t know your expectations?

3       Listen actively

You want to understand – really understand – what your employee thinks. Therefore, you listen, you paraphrase and you reflect back what is said.

It is important that you withhold any judgment and advice when you listen. You want to understand and learn your employees perception and standpoint.

I know some managers have problems with listening. They think if they hear something they don’t agree with they must respond right away. But that’s not true.

Always remember:
When listening actively you want to understand but to understand doesn’t automatically mean that you agree.

One mouth but  two ears

Have you noticed that most humans have two ears but only one mouth? We are created like this to listen more and talk less.

My bonus tip

Focus on constructive feedback. It‘s so important if you want to be a good manager and a great leader. Therefore, click here for my video on how to give feedback to employees:

The inspiring quotes

“Great leaders are willing to sacrifice the numbers to save the people.”

Simon Sinek

LME022 – What is the purpose of a company?

What is the purpose of business? What is the purpose of a company? Most people don’t seem to have much trouble verbalizing the response to this question:

“That’s obvious: The purpose of a business is to make a profit!”

But that’s not true!

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The purpose of any business

When you ask a shareholder this response makes sense. To him, it’s important that the company, into which he invested, makes as much profit as possible. This increases the company value, or a dividend can be paid out.

In both cases, the capital invested by the shareholder increases, and this is what he cares about. This is easily understood, but that does not make generating a profit the purpose of a company.

Purpose of a company

Purpose of a company:
photo: Dean Photography/ resource: www.bigstock.com

Is the purpose of a company to create jobs?

But If you ask a union representative, or a socially oriented politician, he will probably tell you:

“The purpose of the company is to create jobs, and to retain these over the long-term.”

This also makes sense, but here as well: To create jobs is not the purpose of a company.

Customer value?

The sole purpose of any company is to satisfy the needs of customers. A company that does not provide a value to its customers will have no customers over the mid-term. Why should customers be expected to buy from this company?

Over the near-term, a company can survive without customers. Over the mid and long-term a company without customers has no reason for being, and no chance of survival.

Profits and employees?

This isn’t to say that profits and employees aren’t important. Both are needed to fulfill the purpose, i.e. to create value for the customer. They are a means to an end.

A company cannot survive without at least making a profit now and then, because it will not be able to invest into its future and the future value added for its customers. A company can therefore only be of benefit to its customers over the long-term if it is profitable.

This is similarly true for employees and their jobs. To provide value to the customer with services and products, practically every business needs employees. For this reason, it must create enough jobs to satisfy the needs of its customers. Not more, and no fewer.

Might I be splitting hairs?

You may think:

“That is splitting hairs. It makes no difference whether profits and employees are the means or the purpose of a company, right?“

By no means. This is critical to how you as the entrepreneur and manager think about it. Your attitude about this has a huge impact on the company success. The following example should highlight the point:

The self-employed programmer Thomas

Three years ago, Thomas became self-employed as a software developer. He wanted to be independent and make more money than he could in his previous employment.

As a recognized specialist for the programming language C++, he can now charge a comparatively high hourly rate for his work.His customers are happy to pay, because as a certifiable expert, he delivers outstanding programming work. He has therefore accomplished his goal to be independent, and to make good money.

Let’s assume that he defines “making lots of money” as the purpose of his one man enterprise. He therefore places the focus on money. This puts him in jeopardy of relying on his expertise and skill, and resting on his laurels.

But now, the requirements of his customers for his programming work are slowly beginning to change. He is reluctant and late to recognize and acknowledge this. After all, he’s focused on making as much money as possible, and not primarily on understanding the needs of his customers.

Over time, things are getting increasingly difficult for him, since C++ is no longer the predominant programming language called for. He has failed to adjust to the changing needs of his customers in a timely manner. His business is in decline, his revenues are dropping, and his customers no longer want to pay the high hourly rate. That’s too bad.

If he had regarded the purpose of his company as providing his customers with the highest possible value, he would have spent time early to study his customers and the solutions useful to them. He would continue to be a recognized partner for his customers, and his customers would continue to pay his high hourly rate.

Purpose and focus of your company

If your company is in a critical situation, it may be necessary over the short-term to focus on maximizing profits and quarterly results, instead on customer value. But over the long-term such an orientation is always disastrous.

The purpose of a company is always to provide value to its customers – and it is therefore clear that this must be the focus of your company. Your business vision statement as part of your business strategy should reflect the purpose of your company.

Purpose and Vision Statement

The inspiring quotes

“Every product and service is sold on the promise of a better future. The purpose of business is to deliver on the promise, and profit is the reward for doing so.”

Patrick Dixon

“Winners are people with definite purpose in life.”

Denis Waitly

LME021 – How to motivate employees in the workplace

Your employees don’t contribute, they lack motivation, but they are always looking for better pay? I’ll show you how to motivate your employees.

Listen to the podcast version:

View the video version:

How to motivate employees with money

Money may be attractive, but it has no sustained impact on employee motivation nor on employee commitment!

Please don’t take this the wrong way. If you don’t pay your employees an adequate income, then you’ll demotivate your employees! They will not be commited to work for you.

But the inverse conclusion will only work on an exception basis: If you pay an above average income, this will by no means result in your employees being more motivated or more commited over the long haul.

Intrinic and extrinsic motivation

There is an important difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. What the difference is and why you need to have intrinsically motivated employees you can read here: How employee motivation really works!

You need intrinsic motivation

Intrinsically motivated people have 3 characteristics:

1. Desire for self-determination

They want to work independently on a task with the greatest possible elbow room.
This means for your employees: Tell them about the goal, but give them the freedom to decide how they reach the goal.

2. Strive for excellence

Intrinsic motivated people want to grow with the task. They want to continue improving themselves on an issue that they feel is important to them. This means: Hepl your employees to become better in what they are doing. Help them with your feedback and offer them training.

3. Purpose

The things they do must have a purpose. In performing their task, they want to be part of something larger than themselves.
Talk about the company vision. Talk about the why. Why are you doing what you do. Why should they care to work for you?

The funny thing with intrinsic motivation:

If you take care about these 3 points you automatically take care that your employees don’t get demotivated.

Assume that your employees are motivated – at least when they start working for your company. What happens mostly is that people get demotivated over time by buerocracy or a bad boss.

Therefore: Your task as a leader is not to learn how to motivate employees. Instead, tell them about your business vision and the why and take care that you don’t demotivate them!

 

The inspiring quote

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Theodore M. Hesburgh

 

LME020 – No1 feedback rule

No1 feedback ruleAs a manager, you should give your employees regular feedback. I will give you my most important  tip, my No1 feedback rule on constructive feedback.

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My experience with feedback

As a CEO of my own company as well as a manager in an international group, I was able to gather some experience through feedback worldwide – in all kind of cultures and all kind of company sizes.

Over time, I’ve developed a sense for feedback. I learned how valuable contructive feedback is and how it helps others. But I have also noticed how devastating well-intentioned but incorrectly formulated feedback can be – both in terms of employee motivation and behavior.

The crux with critisism

Everyone loves to be praised and to be confirmed. Who doesn‘t like to be praised?

With criticism, on the other hand, it’s different. If someone asks you,

“Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”

You’ll probably say

“No, of course not!”

… and you ask for the feedback. But deep inside of you, it’s hard for you to hear negative feedback. And let’s face it: it will be negative.

If someone explicitly asks for permission to give you feedback, he doesn‘t just want to praise, he mostly wants to criticize. But criticism questions our self-esteem. It triggers our defense mechanisms, because we believe our reputation is in danger. Actually, we want to be praised, but not judged.

That’s why when you give feedback, it’s less important what you say than how you say it.

My number one rule or if you will my number one tip for contructive feedback is:

The No 1 rule: Feedback is a gift!

Always view feedback as a gift: whether you critize or you are critized.

A gift usually has a nice packaging – this is no different with feedback. For example, it‘s the way you express criticism. Criticism should be clear, but appreciative. If it‘s not, then there is a good chance that it will not be perceived as a gift.

But especially for the feedback taker this attitude is crucial to see feedback as a gift.

Feedback to the boss

Let’s assume that an employee approaches his boss and tells him in private:

“Boss, in the meeting right now. Well, what you told the staff was not so well received.”

Now it’s extremely important how does the boss react to such a critic.

The employee dared to give the higher ranking person – his boss – feedback on his behaviour and on how it was perceived by the staff. Doing this requires courage.

Why did the employee do this? He wants to signal to his boss that something has gone wrong. He suspects that his boss isn‘t aware of this at all. With this feedback, the employee wants to help his boss to assess the situation correctly.

It‘s a gift to the boss.

And now it depends on how the boss reacts. When the boss says:

“Yes, yes, I know what I said, but I did it because I wanted the staff to understand and to think about what we need to do and that it is done in the right way and…”

Blablabla… If the boss defends himself directly after he was critisized, then this is unfavorable. He doesn’t really accept the gift. He takes it as an attack and defends himself.

However, the employee only wanted to show the boss his point of view.

“Here dear boss, something went wrong. What you said was received in a way you may not wanted it to be received.”

It would be much more favorable, if the boss would react with

“Thank you for the feedback. I’m glad you told me. I have to think about that.”

So he really accepts the feedback as a gift.

Two most important words: “Thank you”!

Very important here: What do I do if someone gives me a gift? Exactly he says „Thank You.“

The boss can ask:

“Thank you for your feedback. What exactly did I say in the meeting what came out wrong?”

Then the employee can answer:

“Yes, boss, you know, you said we’d just skip lunch today. That wouldn’t be a problem, but it was received quite badly that you didn’t explain why we had to skip it.”

It’s okay to ask such questions to really understand the criticism. But the boss should not evaluate and justify the employee’s statement at that moment. He should accept it as it is meant. As a gift: He receives a foreign view on his behavior.

Try to really understand the criticism!

Unfortunately, most people take a defensive stance when giving feedback – even today, I still sometimes feel the same way.

But it is unfavorable. Because it can lead to the fact that the employee decides the next time not to give feedback to the boss:

“I’d rather keep my mouth shut. The boss always knows everything better anyway. Before I get involved in discussions with him, I’d rather not say anything …”

What a pity. Whether you are the boss and get criticised or you are an employee and get feedback from your boss, always keep in mind:

If you receive feedback, try to really understand it and take it as a gift – even if it is rough on you or does not come across as very appreciative and even if you don‘t agree with it at all.

If I’m criticized and don’t agree with the criticism, I try to listen carefully. I don’t always succeed but at least I try. The reason for that is the saying:

“Often a feedback says more about the person giving the feedback than about the person being criticized.“

So, if I listen well, I at least learn something about the other person’s point of view. I try to understand him or her.

And always keep in mind, if you do so:
If I understand the other person that doesn‘t mean that I agree!

 

The inspiring quote

Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. Let
people see you value both feedback and ideas.

Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

 

LME019 – How to stay calm at work when under stress and pressure

How to stay calm at work

How to stay calm at work

It is often not easy to stay calm at work. Nevertheless, there are team leaders and managers that amazingly are able to do this. They radiate a sense of calm and composure, even in stressful situations.

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Do you stay calm at work?

I had my difficulties with it when I was working as a manager. But some collegues stayed calm under pressure during times when all others around them seem to lose their heads and become tangled up with their emotions.

So, I started to watch them closely and learn. Nowadays, because of that, I can stay much more calm and composed.

Does it always work? Well – no! But more and more!

What is needed to stay calm at work?

Staying calm is based on self-confidence, clear thinking and optimism. One who goes through life with confidence and optimism will most likely keep his head and stay calm in critical situations as well. Why? Because such a person has internalised a credo like:

„Nothing is as bad as it looks.“

Now, some of you might say:

„Yeah, but this person had it easy in life – no wonder he sees it like that. But for me it’s a different story.“

But that’s commonly not the case. It’s actually not true at all, that these optimistic, confident people had it always easy in life. It’s often quite the opposite.

They have made some hard experiences as well, but they’ve analysed these deep hits over time and processed them.

Analyse previous situations

If you want to become more calm and composed, you have to analyse previous situations where you couldn’t stay cool. For example, situations when you were angry or anxious: situations when you were uncertain and start to doubt yourself.

This postprocessing of previous situations can help you tremendously to become more confident, composed and to keep calm in similar situations in the future.

You decide for yourself on how to react. You will be able to stay in control, and you won’t be driven by emotions like anger or anxiety anymore, which allows you to act and react more composed.

Be self-determined and prepare

In my experience, to be self-determined and prepared for these situations and having options is crucial in order to become more calm and composed.

What else helps you to become more calm and keep a cool head?

My 5 tips on how to stay calm at work

Here are my 5 tips on how you can stay calm if your under pressure. If you feel that you’re reaching a critical point where you might slide back into your old behaviour pattern, or you feel that emotions start to boil over, do the following:

1. Breathe!

„Yeah, great. I’m breathing anyway.“

No, I mean really take a deep breath. If we experience stress or we are overwhelmed by a particular situation, our breathing usually changes: it becomes faster and more shallow. We become tense.

When this happens, just count to 10 in your head and consciously breath deeply in and long out. This will calm you down.

2. Be silent!

Take time to reflect. Keep a distance while being fully aware. Try to get to the point where you simply observe yourself.

3. Take a break!

When you feel you are just about to lose your patience or to fly off the handle and then say something that you will regret later on – take a break the moment you realize that.

During a conversation just ask for a break. Get up and leave the room – for example to use the bathroom. That’s a normal human need. Nobody can object to that, right?

4. If provoked, don’t take it personal!

It is helpful in this kind of situation to simply take it as it were not aimed at you. Of course, that is not always easy, but try to remind yourself: not he, she or something has provoked you – it is you, allowing yourself to be provoked. Just don’t let it get to you. Then you are able to stay calm.

5. Don’t take on every challenge!

Taking on every challenge is a mistake.

This is something that I used to do far too often. Of course: there are situations when you really need to stand your ground and act consistent. For example, during a meeting where your important project is being discussed and a colleague strongly argues against it.

Or, if your manager comes down unreasonably on one of your team members. That’s when you do need to step in.

But you really don’t need to switch to confrontation mode every time you’re under attack. You don’t need to take on every challenge and pick every fight. Sometimes it is already enough, not to listen, to simply ignore things and to don’t let yourself get carried away.

Understand when to stand your ground!

Learn, when to stand your ground, which fights are worth picking and which are not.

And if you decide to get involved, then do it with your full commitment. But don’t let yourself get carried away and react to everything and everyone, because then you’re not self-determined anymore, but driven.

Somebody else is flipping a switch, and you react to it. Don’t do that. Become self-determined and, therefore, confident, calm and composed.

I wish you the best of luck and much success in becoming more confident, calm and composed – and therefore a better leader.

How to become a better manager and leader

If you liked this tips you should read my post on my 3 tips whioch help you to become a better manager. Just click here:

How to become a better manager

The inspiring quote

You have to think of your career the way you look at the ocean, deciding which wave you’re gonna take and which waves you’re not gonna take. Some of the waves are going to be big, some are gonna be small, sometimes the sea is going to be calm. Your career is not going to be one steady march upward to glory.

Alan Arkin

 

LME018 – Onboarding new employees

Today we talk about 3 major mistakes you should avoid when onboarding new employees.

Do you spend a lot of time and money searching for new staff members? Yes? But do you also pay enough attention to train the new hires properly?

I will explain to you the three most critical mistakes during the onboarding process that you really have to avoid.

Listen to the podcast version

Why you should care about onboarding

Recruiting costs can easily reach up to 40% of the annual salary for the job position to be filled. If the new employee is not properly trained after hiring, the employer is really wasting hard cash.

As a leadership and manager coach I noticed this fatal mistake with quite a few of my clients. A lot of effort, time and resources are put into finding suitable candidates, but then the new hires are not being inducted and trained well.

Recklessly neglecting the onboarding process turns out to be a costly mistake, for example when the new employee is already leaving during the probation period, or it becomes clear – far too late – that the person doesn’t really fit in the organisation or the team after all.

Onboarding new employees: 3 major mistakes!

There are three really bad mistakes during Onboarding that I come across time and again and that simply should not happen at all.

1. Onboarding mistake: Poor preparation

When a new staff member is hired, it should be very clear at an early stage what tasks he or she will perform and what the goals will be.

This information has to be stated in writing before the recruitment process begins. And yet, that’s often not the case.

Everything for his or her workspace and tasks should be ready and prepared at the first working day of the new employee. Otherwise, it will be stressful for everybody involved.

„Hello. Remember me? I am the new guy.“

„Ah yes, welcome on board Mr. … ehm, what’s your name again?“

„Newman, Pete Newman“

„Right. Ehm, Judy, could you please take care of Mr. Newman? Show him around and just find a space for him to work, and explain how everything works here – you know where he gets his laptop and how he gets to the cafeteria and everything…“

Argg. That’s not the way.

Have a clear onboarding process

You need a clear onboarding process.

Otherwise, the new team member will feel completely out of place. He or she will feel like a foreign body that doesn’t belong. That’s demotivating. Check out here how employee motivation really works.

When there’s no clarification about the induction process, even the existing staff members will be overwhelmed, because nothing is prepared and no time and resources have been allocated for the induction and support of the new employee.

2. Onboarding mistake: Responsibilities are not clear!

Every employee has a manager. The manager is responsible for the onboarding process!

Of course, the HR Department can support and help with the onboarding process, but basically onboarding has to be performed by the respective leading manager.

The responsibility lies with the manager!

He has to overlook the Onboarding steps and – most of all – has to take the time for the new employee.

Like almost everything with leadership: this task is very important. As a manager you have to do it.

Even important customer meetings or other management tasks have to come in second.

“Yeah, but our important client had requested this meeting on short notice. So, I simply didn’t have the time for the new staff member…”

“Yeah, but the board requested a very urgent consultation.”

No: There is no

„Yeah, but…“

What has priority? What is really important for you as a manager? Give the new employee now the time and appreciation that he deserves – and that he also very much needs in the beginning to become part of your team.

Support him or her to build up confidence quickly. This includes providing the opportunity to quickly socialize and integrate into the team and to become a valued and respected team member. Your new employee needs to learn about the corporate culture and thats true een if you have a small company.

He needs to know what is expected of him, and he needs to develop the feeling that he makes an important contribution to the organisation. Communicating this, that’s your job as his or her new manager.

3. Onboarding mistake: Insufficient Feedback

Most organisations imply a probation period. Often it lasts for 6 months. But mostly they don’t make good use of this probation time. Despite the first months are crucial.

Make it clear to your new team member, what you expect from him or her and what goals should be achieved. Very important in the beginning: give sufficient regular feedback during onboarding new employees.

Where does he or she stand?

How can an employee develop and become better, if he doesn’t know how good he is and whether or not he’s meeting the expectations?

It shouldn’t happen, but it might happen, that an employee doesn’t perform as expected. In that case, you have to let him or her go, despite all efforts made on both sides.

The probation time

This is why there’s a probation period. But it also means, that you have to make the most of the probation and take the time to talk to your new employee regularly. Help him to understand the goals and expectations and to live up to them.

Don’t tell him or her what you expect only at the end of the 6-month probation. That’s just not fair.

Give regular feedback!

Arrange for a feedback-meeting every other week or once a month.

Give feedback, tell your new team member how well he or she performs and offer support and additional training if necessary.

These meetings can also be used to agree upon short-term goals. Goals that the employee should reach in the following weeks to become a full member of the workforce after the probation.

Unfortunately, many managers don’t do that. And what happens, is: the manager didn’t have time for the new employee and now – close to the end of the probation period – a decision has to be made, whether to keep him in the company or not.

„Shall we keep the new guy or not? Well, I haven’t had much time in the last months… It would be a bit unfair to let him go now, just because I didn’t have enought time for him …“

That’s correct. But what was actually unfair is that you didn’t pay attention to and you didn’t take care of your new employee.

Use the probation time correctly!

What happens often is: You employ a lousy candidate after the probation time because you did not have a proper onboarding process.

At least in some countries liek Germany: You can’t get rid off him that easily after the probation period is over – just because of legal rules.

Therefore always consider: set up regular meetings with your new employee already from the first day to provide feedback – preferably every other week.

If you do that, you will know latest after 6 months whether working together makes sense or not. There will be no surprises or disappointments. Even if you decide not to keep the new employee or even let him go already during the probation period, at least you gave him a fair chance by providing feedback and support.

Checklist Onboarding

I prepared a check list that guides you through the entire Onboarding process.

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my 4 page onboarding checklist

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The inspiring quote

“I truly believe that onboarding is an art. Each new employee brings with them a potential to achieve and succeed. To lose the energy of a new hire through poor onboarding is an opportunity lost.”

Sarah Wetzel

LME017 – How to become a better listener and improve as a leader

Become a better listener

Become a better listener
Image: jgroup/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

As a true leader you should always ask yourself how to become a better listener. Because, the majority of employees consider their boss to be a poor listener. This is the result of a study performed by several organisations including the Business Executive Academy in Germany (Akademie für Führungskräfte der Wirtschaft).

This is tragic. It undermines employee motivation. Many misunderstandings throughout the daily routine could be avoided – if only managers were to take the time and simply listen.

Listen to the podcast version

Why do managers have such a hard time becoming a better listener?

Managers want to be perceived as the engines of progress. Activity may frequently give them a false sense of being in control.

But listening is erroneously equated with passivity and submissiveness. Consequently, many managers focus more on talking than on listening. In the end, what the boss says is what goes. This is a big leadership mistake.

Bad decisions are made by those who do not listen

Many managers only listen briefly and are much too quick at forming an opinion. They suffer from “premature evaluation“. They make rushed evaluations of an employee’s statement, instead of absorbing the presentation, asking follow-up questions and comprehending the matter.

Are you one of these? Do you evaluate and react while your employee is still speaking? You are then actually no longer truly listening to them. You are already distracted by your own thoughts about the solution to the problem, and are not taking the time to understand the problem in detail. Misunderstanding and poor decisions are then already pre-programmed.

Getting to the bottom of things

When something goes wrong in your company, you should not only focus on facts and figures. You must to get to the bottom of things.

You will only do so if you understand the underlying emotions and motivations of the people involved. This requires that you ask and listen – but do so correctly.

Not an inquisition – but an inquiry instead

When listening actively, you are engaged with your conversation partner. You express empathy and address the other person with an open mind. It’s important to follow up on things that are not clear, and attempt to understand and address the other person’s feelings. You make an inward attempt to place yourself into the situation of the speaker.

It is important in this case to keep your opinion to yourself. Do not allow yourself to become agitated by allegations and criticism. Keep in mind:

Listening is not the same as agreeing!

3 tips how to ask questions the right way

Asking questions can be a great method helping your employees. But you need to use questions carefully. Otherwise they can be counterproductive.

1. Short questions in rapid succession

If you shoot short questions in rapid succession your employees may feel like being interrogated by a police officer. They feel pressed into a defensive position and feel like they are under attack. In this way, they become more and more afraid and threatened.

If a project went wrong and you talk to the responsible person, avoid asking short questions in rapid succession. One question is enough. Allow your employee to think and to find the right answer.

If you strive for becoming a better listener, don’t fire short questions in rapid succession.

2. Don’t trigger fear with your questions.

The shorter you formulate your question, the more pressing it is perceived by your employee. So, avoid this kind of questions. Instead of

“Why did you make the decision this way?”

You can ask:

“I can see that you were in a tough situation. What led you to make the decision this way?”

You see? Asking in that way does not trigger fear and defence.

3. Talk about the background of your question.

Sometimes it can help to introduce the background of your question with one or two sentences before asking the actual question. In the end you ask these questions in order to help or to understand – not to frighten, to demotivate or to frustrate.

Questions can be a terrific way to get others to think. But this will only work if your counterpart feels that you respect him. Therefore, never ever act like a threatening inquisitor!

Gaining trust and understanding

In order to learn how to become a better listener try to understand the emotions and motivations of difficult employees.

  • Why does the employee behave this way?
  • What is his perspective of things?
  • What is his reality?

Avoid jumping to conclusions. Good listeners express appreciation and can then gain trust. They become aware of valuable information, are better able to assess situations and can therefore avoid misunderstandings.

6 important tips for how to become a better listener

  1. Don’t just go through the motions, but actually listen attentively.
    Become completely engaged with your conversation partner.
  2. Without fail, good listeners also ask good questions. Ask for more information if you did not understand something. Repeat what you understood in your own words. Keep it brief when doing so.
  3. The ability to listen actively takes time to develop. Accept that you will feel somewhat clumsy and uncomfortable in your role in the beginning.
  4. Confidence is needed to approach others and to listen to them in an open and candid manner. Precisely in your role as the boss, you must have the ability to absorb unpleasant matters or criticism without having to justify yourself on the spot.
  5. Learn to appreciate pauses. Resist the urge to say something when a pause occurs. One of my bosses once told me: “You lead a conversation by saying little.”
  6. Are you one who tends to speak too much? Then you must accept the following:
    Generally, your counterpart is much more interested in himself and his desires and problems than in your desires and problems. Therefore: Speak less – and speak less about yourself. Place your counterpart at the center of attention, regardless whether this is customer, a colleague or an employee.

Further tips on how to become a better manager

If you liked this tips you should read my post on my 3 tips whioch help you to become a better manager. Just click here:

How to become a better manager

How to become a better manager

 

The inspiring quote

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”

Roy T. Bennett

LME016 – Meeting deadlines? Here’s how to do it!

Do you have a problem with meeting deadlines? It can be tricky, right?

But we all know it and we’re all annoyed by it, when it happens: I am talking about missed deadlines, unkept promises or delayed projects.

Why do these things happen? Why do people and companies not honor their deadline commitments? In most cases this isn’t ill will. This frequently involves poor planning, ineptitude or the misguided assumption that it will all work out somehow.

Listen to the podcast version

Meeting deadlines

Meeting Deadlines isn’t easy!
Image: eminozkant/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

10 Tips for meeting deadlines


Do you keep your promises? I know it is hard sometimes to stick to deadlines, right?

Here are 10 tips helping you for meeting deadlines:

1. Only commit to what you can do!

Never agree to an impossible deadline neither to please someone nor to to win an order. Otherwise, over the long haul this will do more harm than good: You will not only loose your customer’s trust, but you will also be stuck with a project that will bring nothing but irritation and problems, right from start.

It’s not just with your customers. Fo example, if you committed to a deadline to one of your employees and you can’t make it, you loose credibility and you destroy employee motivation. Don’t do this. Only commit to what you can do.

2. Put it in writing!

Always record your commitments and deadlines in writing. It will help to counteract your forgetfulness. Enter deadlines into your planner.

Also record small, apparently insignificant commitments in writing. For instance, if you have scheduled an appointment with an employee, send out an e-mail or an invitation via Outlook. This ensures that both parties clearly know when the meeting was supposed to take place.

3. Identify the purpose!

When you agree to a deadline, describe in detail what is to accomplished, completed or shipped by this deadline. What ‘s the purpose? The expectations on both sides need to be crystal clear, otherwise this can result in unpleasant misunderstandings down the road.

4. Learn to say no!

Reject unrealistic requirements right from the start. If you commit to a production machine with 102% efficiency you should not be surprised to find out that you cannot meet the deadline for this machine!

5. Agree on specific deadlines!

Don’t say:

“Let’s get back together sometime in summer.”

but agree on a specific date for the meeting, e.g. August 24, 2013. It is also advisable to determine where and at what time the meeting is to take place and how long it is scheduled to last.

6. Set deadlines for milestones

When larger projects are involved, it is best to partition the project at the start. Set deadlines for milestones and agree with them with your employees. This makes a large project more manageable. Here you find more about how to delegate and how to set these milestones.

This will also keep you from catching “procrastinitis”. A major project that is started and planned at the last minute has no chance of being completed on time.

7. Keep others informed

Tell your co-worker and employees about your commitments and also the deadlines for the milestones. This will help you to define goals. It serves as an additional motivating element and will help you to stick with the milestone deadlines.

8. Always plan with contingencies!

Learn to make realistic time estimates! Do not load up your entire schedule. You should keep at least 50% of your time reserved for contingencies and breaks. Keep in mind:

“If it can go wrong, it will go wrong!”

9. Do not try to be perfect!

There are things where you need to avoid making mistakes at all costs. But there is plenty of work where it is sufficient to get things done as best as possible.

Anyone who wants to ship a 100% perfect solution all the time will never meet the agreed to deadline. Avoid this!

10. Get help early!

When things get sticky you should consider: what activities do I have to take care of myself, what can I delegate or outsource? Who can help me right now: employees, suppliers, partners?

By the way: When things get tight, avoid multi-tasking. This will only waste more time. Always start with the unpleasant tasks first.

The worst case scenario: you cannot meet the deadline!

Inform all those involved as soon as it becomes apparent that you cannot meet the deadline. Once the cat it out of the bag, and you will miss the deadline, you must inform in a timely manner and present alternatives: this will not necessarily always result in a schedule delay. You can always propose to reduce the deliverable scope to those involved and meet the deadline that way.

The key is to inform early in the process and to give those involved the option to decide about the alternatives. This way you can at least prevent the situation from getting worse.

 

The inspiring quote

“A professional who doesn’t deliver as committed is not just lazy, he is a liar.”

Amit Kalantri

 

LME014/015 Leadership Mistakes! The Top Ten and how to avoid them!

Leadership mistakes happen. People make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. But the main thing is to realize your mistakes, analyze them, and then try to change your behavior to avoid making them again in the future.

But that is easier said than done. When trying to improve, the first step is decisive: You have to realize your own mistakes.

Listen to the podcast versions

That is why today I would like to share with you the WORST 10 leadership mistakes. Probably many of the mistakes will already be familiar to you. Perhaps you remember some of your own bosses who you had to endure.

But more importantly, think about whether you, as manager, have made these mistakes yourself. I have made a few of these mistakes as manager. The effects they can have on employee motivation can be devastating.

Leadership MistakesSo let us take a closer look: Here are the WORST 10 leadership mistakes, which you should watch out for and avoid:

No 1 of the top leadership mistakes: Avoiding making decisions!

Decisions need to be carefully considered. But to wait as long as possible because of this, until you think you have every last bit of information, is usually the wrong way to go. Accept the fact that you, as manager and leader, must make decisions even when you don’t have a complete overview because you still haven’t got all the facts.

As leaders and entrepreneur you need to make swift and clear decisions, and you have to live with the risk of making the wrong decision.

One of my bosses once laid it out for me really clearly:

“As manager you bear all the risks in the decision! So let’s make one thing clear: To be a manager means accepting that you can get fired!”

The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more unpleasant the decisions that you must make will be. Some examples which come to mind are firing employees or shutting down plants, for example.

If you continually put off making decisions because of anxiety or for political reasons – if you even keep out of sight of your employees and simply don’t reply to emails on the subject anymore – then you will frustrate and demotivate your employees, especially those who are very motivated and committed.

As manager it is your job to make the decision.
What are you like? Do you avoid making decisions?

2 Being non-committal!

Many managers don’t trust themselves to tell it like it really is. They don’t want to commit themselves. They want to keep all options open.

Their non-committal nature can often be recognized in their speech. Phrases get mangled, and weak expressions are used, such as:

  • Synergy effects
  • A new-orientation to bring things into focus
  • Proactive downsizing

Some of these managers don’t even notice anymore that they only emit meaningless mumbo-jumbo – but their employees sure do!

That’s why I say don’t skirt around the subject. As manager you want to be understood. Get to the point. Commit yourself. Formulate goals clearly and tell your colleagues exactly what you expect from them. Be decisive and dependable, because that will make you consistent!

Are you decisive and consistent?

3 Not listening!

Many misunderstandings in daily exchanges can be prevented, if only managers would take the time to simply pay attention.

Why do managers find it so difficult to listen actively?

I believe it is for the following reason: Most managers want to be perceived as active doers. I know that because I went down this path! It#s a very common leadership mistake. Often, activity seems to give you a supposed feeling of being in control. In contrast, listening is wrongly equated with passivity and subordination. That’s why many managers concentrate more on speaking than on listening. After all, the boss has the final say.

But: People who don’t listen and pay attention are more likely to make the wrong decisions!

Unfortunately, many people only listen briefly and form their own opinion much too early on. The technical term for this is “premature assessment”. Many managers suffer from making premature assessments. They form judgments on statements by their staff much too quickly.

But when they do that they are not actually really listening to their staff. They are already engrossed in their own ideas for solving problems, and don’t even take the time to really understand the problem and the point of view of their staff. When this happens, misunderstandings and wrong decisions are inevitable.

Do you listen enough? Or do you judge and react even while your people are still speaking? Click here to learn more about how to become a better listener.

4 Micromanaging!

Micromanagement is a classic example of demotivating manager behavior. The micromanager assigns tasks and then controls them in minute detail, without permitting his subordinates to participate in decision-making. The manager not only specifies the goal, but also the detailed plan of how to achieve it.

By their behavior, micromanagers demonstrate their lack of trust in their subordinates. This frustrates, demotivates, and paralyzes subordinates’ ability to think on their own.

Do you want to know if you have micromanagement tendencies? Then answer the following questions:

  • In every project do you constantly have to have an overview?
  • Do you want to know everything in detail for every project?
  • Can you take responsibility for all the work of your subordinates yourself?
  • Do you believe that you, as manager, know more and can do more than your subordinates?
  • Do you suffer from email overload?

If you answer even one of these questions with yes, then you should take a closer look at whether you are micromanaging in your daily work.

Ask your staff if you allow them enough freedom to do their work. If not, learn how to delegate instead of only controlling.

5 A conceited view of yourself!

Managers don’t have much time. Their schedules are hectic because they have a lot to get done. They are very committed, and bustle from meeting to meeting. Ultimately they are really important, after all things would collapse without them.

That is why they often think that they can take the liberty of doing things that their subordinates would never do, such as coming to a meeting too late (after all, there was that critical telephone conversation with a major customer…). Such managers also have so much to do that they naturally think they must read their emails while a colleague holds a presentation. But woe unto the employee who reads his/her emails during a meeting while the boss explains the new company strategy!

Some bosses are so important and have so much to do that there is no area where they don’t try to save time, even when it comes to saying please and thank you. After all, they can streamline things even more by leaving out the formalities, can’t they? And when the stress becomes unbearable, one has to accept that a guy just has to fly off the handle sometimes – which can get pretty unpredictable!

If you demonstrate through your actions to your staff that “I am important, you are not so important!”, how do you think that will affect their motivation? How would you feel?

You have to act as a role model first for whatever you demand from others. It is important to treat your staff like you yourself want to be treated. Do you do that?

6 Acting unfairly and unjustly!

Fairness is an important basis for a good company culture, but some managers seem to forget this in the midst of hectic day-to-day activities. They are so pre-occupied with themselves and their work that they don’t take the time to put themselves in the position of their staff.

Often they are not even aware of how they hurt their subordinates with their conduct and words. This happens, for example, when the boss gives preference to a few favorite staff members by giving them all the interesting projects. Or if an employee makes a mistake and the boss gives him/her a dressing down in front of the whole group. Such behavior is unjust and unfair, and that is exactly how it is perceived by all the other employees. This leads to frustration and demotivation among them.

A really critical issue is remuneration. It is very important that the boss behaves justly and fairly.This is especially true in the case of the salary. Don’t be stingy when determining payment.

The salaries you pay must be appropriate and plausible. That is especially true in the case of the internal salary structure.

More important than the actual amount of the salary is the relation of salaries to one another. Are the differences in the salaries of your colleagues fair? Imagine if the salaries would be revealed for all to see. Would you be able to explain in good conscience the differences in the salaries of all your employees? Are these differences in salary justified?

If you are convinced that performance based bonus and performance based salaries is a good idea, you better read this post: “What you ought to know about performance based bonus“.

7 Not standing by your word!

Leadership only works with trust. But trust is something you have to earn. The only way to build trust is to actually do that which you also say.

If you make a promise, then keep it! Not only in the big things, but especially in the small things. If you tell your colleague you will forward the report in an email today, then he/she should get it today, and not tomorrow! After all, you promised this. What you have said is your word of honor!

Have you ever heard this typical sentence;

“Especially now, in the current crisis, we need to communicate credibility”?

What nonsense. You don’t have to communicate credibility. 
You must be credible!

Take a clear stand; keep your promises – and as manager you need to act consistently.

You will lose your credibility very quickly when people expect something of you and you let them down. That’s why you shouldn’t make any promises that you can’t or don’t want to keep! Building trust takes time. But you can lose people’s trust in a matter of seconds!

How credible are you?

8 Only trusting numbers, data, and facts!

Another typical leadership mistake you should avoid by all means. If something goes wrong in your company, don’t only concentrate on numbers, data and facts. You have to really get to the bottom of things. But you can only do that if you understand the underlying emotions and motivations of people, and to do this you need to ask questions and listen – but you have to do it right.

Especially in the case of difficult colleagues, it is important to understand their emotions and motivations. Why does the colleague behave exactly like this? How does he/she see the matter? What is his/her view of reality?

Avoid drawing premature conclusions. When you convey respect you will gain trust. This way you can gather valuable information, assess the situation better, and thus avoid misunderstandings.

Do you only trust numbers, data, and facts?

9 Demanding zero mistakes!

The new manager who was just hired just made a fatally bad decision. This bad decision will cost the company a million dollars.

The company owner then calls him in for a meeting. With head lowered and sagging shoulders, the manager enters the owner’s office.

“I expect you are going to fire me.”

But the owner replies:

“Do you think I’m crazy? After I just invested a million dollars in your training?”

This anecdote wonderfully highlights how managers should deal with the mistakes of their colleagues.

Mistakes are permitted – as long as one learns from them and doesn’t make the exact same mistake a second time. Demanding zero mistakes is absurd. Everyone makes mistakes – me and you too, just as much as your employees. Managers who demand zero mistakes, get zero mistakes, too. That is because either their staff don’t report mistakes anymore or because they act according to the following saying:

“If you work a lot you make a lot of mistakes.
But if you don’t work a lot you only make a few mistakes.
And if you don’t work at all you don’t make any mistakes!”

Do you really want your staff to make no mistakes?

We all are human beings and we learn by making mistakes. Noone wants to be treated by a “Darth Vader Boss”.

How can you as a leader create a failure tolerant culture without allowing your employees to make lots of mistakes? Mistakes which may compromise safety and security of your company?

In this video I’d like to give you 3 tips on how to deal with employees making too many mistakes:

10 Giving employees no opportunities to develop!

Most people want to improve. They want to develop themselves. They want to grow and become better at what they do.

Naturally, you should give your employees an opportunity to take extra training and learn new things. But if you really want to help your employees to improve, you shouldn’t set any unrealistic goals, and you should put them to work according to their skills and strengths.

Feedback is extremely important. People need criticism and praise. Anyone who wants to improve him or herself needs sincere, constructive feedback. As manager you should recognize the work of your colleagues in a sincere way, and give them constructive feedback.

Do you do that? Do you support the development of your employees, in their efforts to improve themselves?

 

BONUS: 3 ways how employee motivation gets destroyed!

This video is a bonus for you: As a leader don’t focus on motivating your employees but take care that you don’t demotivate them!

 

The inspiring quotes

“In some South Pacific cultures, a speaker holds a conch shell as a symbol of temporary position of authority. Leaders must understand who holds the conch—that is, who should be listened to and when.”

Max de Pree

 

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.”

Daniel Kahnemann